Proposals to explore for gas near a Surrey village would harm the beauty, tranquillity and openness of the surrounding landscape, an inquiry heard this afternoon.
UK Oil & Gas is appealing against refusal of planning permission to drill two gas wells on farmland at Loxley, near Dunsfold.
On the third day of the inquiry, a witness for Waverley Borough Council gave evidence against the scheme. Landscape consultant John-Paul Friend said of the proposal:
“The use will be outlandish in a sensitive landscape”.
He described the impact of the site on the surroundings as “major moderate adverse”.
“Industrial-style operation” will harm views
The proposed site is in a designated Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) and near the edge of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Mr Friend said:
“Waverley Borough Council considers that the development of this site with the appeal proposal would cause harm to the landscape character, beauty, tranquillity and openness of the Countryside beyond the Green Belt and within the AGLV.
“A significant industrial style operation will be formed on the site and views to the associated elements will be available from adjoining fields within the AGLV and the Surrey Hill AONB.”
He said a key issue was that people visiting Hascombe Hill, in the AONB, could sit on a bench and look down on a view that included the proposed site.
“That bench is there for a purpose. It faces south. The site will be in the foreground of the view.
“People who sit on that bench and see this [site] may not return because they will not see an untouched landscape.”
When lit at night, the site would also stand out from the AONB, Mr Friend said:
“The 37m lit structure [of the drilling rig] will affect the visual baseline. It will have an effect on the feel, the experience, of the effect of dark skies at Hascombe Hill”.
He added that wellpad would also detract from the view of Hascombe Hill from a right of way next to the proposed site. He said:
“It is my professional judgement that the proposals when located on site would result in a noticeable adverse change from the local landscape and from viewpoints within the AONB.
“This change would be noticeable during both daylight and night-time hours and would be worse during winter months when vegetation has lost its foliage.”
He said there would be additional noise at night and this, along with site operations, would affect the tranquillity of the area. He said he had been surprised how quiet the site was.
“I was there for hours and not a single vehicle passed me.
The proposed widening of the junction of Dunsfold Road and High Loxley Road, needed to accommodate large heavy goods vehicles, and extra street furniture, would have an urbanising effect, he said.
“Fails to protect a valued landscape “
UKOG has argued that the area was not a valued landscape, despite its AGLV designation.
But Mr Friend said Surrey County Council’s landscape assessment concluded that the site was indeed in a landscape of high value and highly susceptible to change.
Mr Friend said:
“The proposal would fail to protect a valued landscape or to recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the open countryside.”
He said this meant it failed to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework.
Matthew Dale-Harris, for UKOG, said for a landscape to be valued it had to be out-of-the-ordinary. This was quite a high bar, he said.
Mr Friend responded that value could be affected by various factors. “Something as simple as tranquillity can be enough to make a landscape valued”, he said.
UKOG told the inquiry earlier this week that there would be “short-term adverse effects on the landscape characteristics”. But it said they would be confined to a discrete area, the change would be “low-level”, the effects would last for just three years and the long-term impact would be neutral.
Mr Friend told the inquiry this afternoon:
“In my professional judgement, the effect [of the drilling site] will have more of an impact than has been reported in the [company’s] landscape and visual impact assessment.
“Three years seems like a small amount but in someone’s lifetime this is quite an amount. It will have an impact on someone’s perception of that landscape.”
Mr Friend also criticised UKOG for failing to provide winter views of the area and for not producing night-time lighting assessments. This was “a major weakness” in UKOG’s evidence, he said.
Mr Dale-Harris said the landscape around the proposed wellsite was not untouched. There is an aerodrome not far to the south, there is a caravan site, he said. Mr Friend responded that the landscape was rural and agricultural.
Mr Friend has said the rig would be on site for about 60 weeks. Mr Dale Harris said: “You have overstated the impacts”. The likely duration of drilling vertical and sidetrack wells would be up to 20-24 weeks, Mr Dale-Harris said. It was unlikely that tall equipment would be onsite for more than 30 weeks, he added.
The inquiry resumes at 9.30 on Friday 30 July 2021